This isn’t Chrysler's first hi-po truck rodeo. The Lil' Red Express was the quickest American-made vehicle you could get your hands on when Dodge introduced it back in 1978, and the Ram SRT-10 blew minds and destroyed tires in equal measure when the company unleashed that Viper-powered brick in 2004.
Of course the connecting thread between those two trucks is their street focus, which for a time seemed like the main vector for automakers' moonshot pickup ideas. Got a promising half-ton? Drop the suspension and throw a motor at it. Major off-road upgrades were ceded to the aftermarket—until the Ford Raptor came around and reminded everyone that only good things can happen when a multibillion-dollar corporation's immense resources are thrown at building a great desert-bashing prerunner.
Still, it takes a special kind of corporate mindset for certain machines to make the leap from cocktail napkin drawing to a real production vehicle. A 700+ horsepower off-road truck like the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is one such improbable machine. And thankfully, Fiat-Chrysler is that special kind of company.
Okay, you're thinking, it's a Ram with a Hellcat engine. Hellcat all the things. Got it. With Ram boasting endlessly about it being the "quickest, fastest, and most powerful mass-produced truck in history," it's easy to reduce the TRX to its horsepower count, muscle car block and 0-60 time (4.5 seconds, in a vehicle that weighs over three tons). Just like it would've been easy for Ram to put in minimal effort with maximum gimmickry and still sell a flotilla of them next year.
But after spending a day roaring around Lake Tahoe and catching air at a track where teams in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series compete, it’s clear the TRX is more than a 1500 with a big Hemi and a lift kit. We're at our best as a species when we bring maximum seriousness to unserious tasks—and the TRX is a shining example of that.
2021 Ram 1500 TRX, By The Numbers
- Base Price: $69,995
- Powertrain: 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 | eight-speed automatic transmission | full-time four-wheel drive with low range
- Horsepower: 702 @ 6,100 rpm
- Torque: 650 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm
- Ground Clearance: 11.8 inches
- Off-Road Angles: 30.2° approach | 21.9° breakover | 23.5° departure
- Max Towing: 8,100 pounds
- Max Payload: 1,310 pounds
- EPA Fuel Economy: 10 mpg city | 14 highway | 12 combined
- The Promise: Ram’s counterpoint to the Raptor.
- The Delivery: The new king of the hill.
The TRX Takes Ram to the Extremes
It took Ram more than a decade to develop a proper answer to the Ford F-150 Raptor, but one glance underneath the bulging sheet metal makes it pretty clear it's put the extra time to good use.
To build a truck that could handle rough terrain at over 100 mph, Ram developed a frame that’s 74% unique to the TRX versus the standard 1500. Sections have been hydroformed to reduce the need for welding, with fully-boxed side rails and high-strength steel placed strategically throughout. “One of the really great items on this frame is the front shock tower,” notes Jeff Roselli, the Model Responsible—aka chief engineer—for TRX. “It’s made from the thickest steel we could possibly stamp.”
Bolted to that frame is a thoroughly reworked suspension system with new front upper and lower control arms that are designed to allow for additional axle track width and wheel travel, while the rear gets a five-link setup with a locking Dana 60 solid axle. Damping is handled by 2.5-inch adaptive Bilstein shocks developed exclusively for the TRX, which feature dual electronic proportional valves that continuously adjust damping force, along with nitrogen-charged remote reservoirs that enhance durability. The TRX also scores the biggest brake package Ram could cram inside the confines of its 18-inch wheels, a 14.9-inch rotor with a dual piston monoblock caliper up front and a 14.1-inch rotor in the rear.
And this 6300-pound behemoth needs all the stopping power it can get: That 6.2-liter supercharged V8 can catapult the TRX to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds on its way to a sub-13 second quarter mile and a top speed of 118 mph, the latter of which necessitated a specially-developed 35-inch, 325mm-wide Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tire that could not only handle rocks, mud, sand, snow, and pavement, but also entirely silly velocities across each surface. However, they're mostly safe from burnouts—the truck runs primarily in full-time 4WD through a BorgWarner 48-13 active transfer case with torque split dependent on drive mode and no rears-only option.
It’s not all just fire and fury. Ram wanted this truck to be luxurious as well, because these days it has to be. So the TRX also culls together an array of different features and technologies from other Ram trucks and elsewhere from the FCA parts bin while also introducing a few new ones. The massive 12.0-inch Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system is standard on all TRX trims, as are the more aggressively-bolstered sport seats and a unique flat-bottomed steering wheel with aluminum shift paddles. Expected upgrades like carbon fiber trim and a 360-degree surround-view camera system are available, of course, but a new heads up display system and digital rear view mirror also grace the options sheet for the first time in any FCA vehicle.
It all adds up to a truck that, when optioned accordingly, provides shock and awe on several different fronts.
On the Street
Sitting eight inches wider than a garden-variety Ram 1500 thanks to its beefed up sheet metal, the TRX is a seriously large pickup truck that makes no attempt to hide its aggressive intent. Yet the cabin of my well-optioned tester felt downright swank thanks to the acres of leather and Alcantara. The standard 1500 already had the F-150 handedly beat in terms of materials and creature comforts and the TRX only widens the gap further, aided in no small part by the gigantic and well-designed touchscreen infotainment system.
Granted, Ford's also got that new F-150 with its wholly redesigned interior headed to dealer lots next year with the next-generation Raptor not far behind, so Ram needs to keep its edge.
The TRX also brings several welcome changes to transmission control. Gone is the unloved rotary dial shifter, replaced by a traditional console-mounted unit with a manual shifting mode—a feature that Ram trucks like the Rebel lack that’s very useful in performance contexts. Those manual shifts can be made either by bumping the shifter forward or backward, or by using the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
Considering the size, weight, power and purpose of the TRX, you’d expect it to be a handful on the road, but it’s surprisingly civilized. While the truck defaults to Auto mode every time you restart the engine, there are seven drive modes to choose from, all of which are accessed by the drive toggle buttons just below the TRX button (which brings up a unique, Ram Rebel-influenced iteration of SRT Performance Pages).
It’s worth noting that Sport mode has worthwhile virtue in every day driving, stiffening up the suspension, weighting up the steering, and allowing the engine to rev up a bit more before upshifting. With the massive sidewalls of the 35-inch tire, even this firmer suspension setting can provide a totally agreeable ride quality over all but the most busted-up pavement, so I eventually found myself switching to the user-defined Custom mode and using the Sport suspension setting with the other, less-aggressive default driving attributes.
If you’ve heard a Hellcat-powered Challenger, Charger, or Grand Cherokee before, the TRX’s growl will already be familiar. Ram says the TRX’s 702-horsepower rating, which is shy a few ponies of the Trackhawk and the original iterations of the Hellcat models, comes as a result of the longer exhaust system required for this truck. But behind the wheel it still sounds every bit as visceral as you’d expect, replete with the banshee wail of that 2.4-liter twin-screw blower under the hood.
As with those other supercharged machines, the TRX uses a ZF-sourced eight-speed gearbox, though here the tuning seems to be a bit gentler. There’s no setting that’ll bang through the gears like Track mode will in the supercharged Dodges and Jeep. It fits with the personality of the TRX, though, as it’s the first Hellcat-powered vehicle I’ve driven that doesn’t feel obscenely (but charmingly) overpowered. Still, when you consider the fact that it’s almost a ton heavier than a blown Challenger, this thing seriously moves out; drop the hammer at 60 mph and you’ll be in the triple digits before you can say "cop car."
Through the Air
After a few hours tooling around Lake Tahoe, I pointed the Ram's wide nose toward Wild West Motorsports Park in Sparks, Nevada. It’s a facility where purpose-built rock racing buggies and other high performance machines compete in various off-road series. The jumps here are legit.
Ram hasn't turned me completely loose with the truck, bringing a coterie of off-road racing pros to babysit and make sure it stays shiny side up. So I head out for a few sighting laps around the course following Josh Hall, the son of late off-racing icon Rod Hall. “Let’s take it easy while I show you the course,” he says over the radio. Hall’s version of “easy” turns out to be what most other folks would consider hauling ass, though, and when we get to the main straight on our last preliminary loop around the course, I decide to close the gap.
That requires going over one of the larger jumps on the course at about 70 mph instead of the suggested 40 mph. And I’m not supposed to do that because I don’t have an instructor riding along with me for these practice laps. Sorry, Ram! Hell, I don’t even have the drive mode set. But when in Rome, right?
Suddenly the suspension unloads and the engine blares, free from the constraints of drivetrain load. (It's worth noting that part of the truck's sophisticated Jump Detection software intervenes in these situations to prevent that power spike from damaging any components.) The TRX and I arc through the air with the grace of a three-ton ballerina. Then the truck lands with a hearty thump—and that’s it. There’s absolutely zero drama. The grin on my face is ridiculous.
I head back into the pits and prepare for my actual hot laps. “Just tell me where my braking zones are and what speeds to hit each section at, and I think we’ll be good,” I say to the brave soul riding shotgun with me. He instructs me to put the truck into Baja mode, which keeps the engine in the powerband, sets the suspension on full damping, and relaxes the traction and stability control systems to allow the truck to rotate.
We set off. Along with the jumps, which the truck continues to dispatch as if they’re moderately large speed bumps, the course also has a section of whoops that are designed to showcase the truck’s 13 inches of suspension travel. Taken at the appropriate speed—about 45 mph—the body of the truck stays level as the suspension works furiously underneath it. It feels abusive, but again the truck just shrugs it off. You get the sense that this thing really could do this all day, provided you’ve got a filling station nearby. Single-digit mpgs are the reality, at least in this kind of use.
Into the Desert
To further prove its Baja mettle, Ram arranged for an off-road loop through the desert culminating in a rock crawl course and a dirt drag launch. I have to say, it's almost like hopping onto a quaint old carousel after a ride on a towering steel roller coaster, bumping up and down small hills in the Nevada scrub after soaring through the air just an hour prior. But those climbs and descents give me a chance to try out 4WD Low as well as the Selec-Speed system, which automatically regulates the truck’s speed so you can focus more of your attention on your line. It worked fine, at least for the hour that I used it.
Later I fire up Rock mode and the Axle Lock features for the rock climb. The truck eagerly bounds over the first section of boulders, but it’s clear that I’m giving the TRX’s five skid plates a workout. “Take it easy!” my spotter says. I mean, I’ve seen what “easy” looks like at this place, guy.
Before heading out to the drag launch exercise the tires are re-inflated, and the truck provides a useful honk when each one has reached the recommended pressure. Once staged at the starting line, I’m instructed to press the Launch button to the right of the four-wheel drive controls.
Like other SRT-bred vehicles, the TRX’s launch control system requires firm left-foot braking to get the required clamping power to keep the truck in place. Once I hit the brake pressure sweet spot, I put the throttle to the floor and the exhaust makes the same rapid-fire crackle as a Demon before I release the brake. The truck spends half a beat fighting for traction on the loose terrain before I’m blasting down the dirt drag strip.
I decide to do it two more times—purely in the name of science, though this particular test didn't prove anything beyond how underrepresented off-road drag racing is in motorsports—and then without doing anything else to the TRX, I drive an hour back to the hotel with the stereo cranked and the ventilated seats on high.
Does the world need a 700 horsepower Baja truck? No. But sometimes we as people need to devote ourselves to unnecessary pursuits, if only to remember how far we can push things when operating on pure, unbridled joy. To drive a vehicle like this is to constantly feel the glee of everyone who made such a ridiculous machine manifest against all odds—a machine the likes of which we may never see again given electrification trends, it should be noted. You think these things grow on trees?
For many, many reasons, 2020 is maybe the worst possible year to come out with something like this. But for others, a bolt of lightning like the Ram 1500 TRX couldn't have landed at a more perfect time. Enjoy its brilliance while you can.
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